We took off like starlings in flight, soaring together in a ‘murmuration’ of choral harmony. The energy produced from 270 sopranos, altos, tenors and basses was spine-tingling.
Even our conductor, Brian Kay, who was the original bass in The King’s Singers vocal ensemble, was moved. ‘You’re quite good,’ he said, after our first rehearsal.
We — that is, some 180 members of The Really Big Chorus (TRBC) — had come to Athens to perform Haydn’s great choral masterpiece The Creation with a 90- strong Greek choir. We had never met each other before and some of us were singing the piece for the first time.
The Parthenon in Athens, where Jane wondered what it might feel like to perform a concert among the lofty columns
Since TRBC was formed in 1974, it has become renowned for its ‘turn up and sing’ events, organising ‘Concerts from Scratch’ at the Royal Albert Hall and holidays that combine singing with sightseeing.
There is no audition and anyone can join. TRBC has attracted many luminaries over the years, including the Duchess of Kent, journalist and radio presenter Libby Purves, Gareth Malone’s father James and Edward Elgar’s great-niece Hilary.
I was a TRBC novice when I booked my three-day Athenian Adventure, with the option of two excursions, a lunch in the Plaka and a choral feast. I was travelling alone — but, as an experienced choral singer, I knew I wouldn’t be lonely: singers are a friendly bunch.
I soon got chatting to Lorraine Lee, a soprano from Bradford. She told me that, in 2000, she had been diagnosed with a heart and lung condition and given six months to live. But then she discovered singing — and it saved her life. ‘It taught me to control my breathing,’ she explained.
Since receiving her awful news, she has sung at the Royal Albert Hall, in front of the Pope at the Vatican, and in New York.
We had just three rehearsals before our performance in the Christos Lambrakis concert hall. Housed in the Athenian temple of modern culture, the Megaron, the hall is renowned for some of the best acoustics in the world.
The frisson of excitement was palpable. For Susie Walker, an alto like me, the holiday reignited memories of when she and her husband, Rob, met in 2014 and married a year later.
‘Singing is something we love to do,’ she trilled. ‘We met on a singing holiday and now we sing and travel together.’
High notes: Jane and some of her fellow choristers with the conductor Brian Kay
We were staying in a modern, four-star hotel on the Athens Riviera — half-an-hour outside the city, on the Aegean.
Had the weather been better, I would have basked on the beach and swum in the sea.
As it was, I took blustery walks along the palm-fringed promenade and imagined the waterfront cafes filled with Athenian weekenders.
Between rehearsals, I took an organised excursion to the city’s showcase attraction, the Acropolis, which, out of season, is pleasantly uncrowded.
As I gazed at the Parthenon, I wondered what it might feel like to perform a concert among the lofty columns, adding to the echo of voices stored within its 2,500-year-old stones.
Jane descibed the Acropolis Museum, pictured, as ‘a wondrous example of how modern architecture and technology can show off ancient treasures’
Today, the temple, like Greece itself, is undergoing renovation, and surveys a city looking to the future, rather than the past.
The nearby Acropolis Museum is a wondrous example of how modern architecture and technology can show off ancient treasures. The star exhibit is a recreation of the interior of the Parthenon, surrounded by huge windows looking on to the real thing.
The display of its five caryatids, resembling a theatre set of stone goddesses bathed in halos of light, is also spectacular.
In high summer, the half-hour drive from the hotel to Sounion, the spectacular coastal promontory crowned by the Temple of Poseidon, must make for a welcome escape from the city.
I was keen to see why the poet Byron loved it and inspect the pillar on which he once etched his name.
Suddenly, it was showtime. My heart always pounds when I sing with a great choir and orchestra in a beautiful venue.
It’s the same for Brian Kay, 75, who has conducted ten Messiahs and all the Bach Passions, not to mention Mozart’s and Verdi’s Requiems many times for TRBC. ‘I wouldn’t do this job if I didn’t get excited,’ he said. ‘I feel I am the luckiest man in the world.’
We sang to a full house and were rewarded with thunderous applause. Next year’s trip is Trieste to sing Mozart’s Requiem in a 14th-century cathedral. I’ve already ordered my score.
Basic package for the Athenian Adventure, including flights, transfers, music arrangements and three nights’ B&B at the four-star Hotel Amarilia, costs £895 pp, trbc.co.uk